How to Pick the Perfect Bumper for Your Truck (Buyers Guide)
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Vehicles come in stock front bumpers, usually simple aluminum plates on factory rails and plastic end caps. Rear stock bumpers are predominantly plastic with metal mounting plates. Unfortunately, none of these options provide a lot of protection. They leave your vehicle susceptible to damage even in small impact scenarios leading to expensive part replacement and repair.
Luckily, there’s a wide array of bumper options. To get the best for your vehicle, you need to know where to search and what to look for. Below we take a deep dive into the different bumper options plus their pros and cons to help you along.
But first, let’s consider the following:
Why Should You Get Aftermarket Bumpers?
Unlike stock bumpers, aftermarket truck bumpers are made from steel with flat gauged plates cleanly welded together. Some brands offer lighter aluminum bumpers which provide better protection. However, aluminum bumpers tend to be more expensive than steel aftermarket bumpers.
Overall, aftermarket truck bumpers improve vehicle protection during accidents and crashes; some allow for aftermarket equipment mounting, and others increase rock crawling clearance.
Factors to Consider When Picking the Best Bumper
Not all bumpers are created the same, so some perform better than others in different scenarios. We’ve classified the different types based on style and size.
Front and rear bumpers are full-width bumpers because they cover the vehicle’s full width from one fender to the other. Most aftermarket full-width bumpers provide better approach angles and clearance. However, they tend to be heavy.
Full-width front bumpers are created to protect vehicles in off-road/wooded environments. The bumper keeps stubborn branches from puncturing the tires or bruising the vehicle’s body or fenders. Most full-width options feature pre-molded cutouts so you can retain factory fog light. While this is a plus, you might have to extend the wiring to mount the bumper successfully.
Other good features include D-rings and winch plates for easy recovery when you get stuck.
Mid-width Aftermarket truck Bumpers
These are slightly narrower than full-width bumpers but still offer better protection than stock options. Also, mid-width bumpers save weight and provide a better approach angle and clearance level.
Stubby bumpers are the shortest of all bumpers. They come in different designs are greatly increase departure and approach angle clearances. You can mount different accessories with a stubby bumper to increase storage, armor, and lighting. Some stubby bumpers even house winches and often don’t need permanent alterations.
Stubby bumpers come in tubular and modular designs. Modular designs are more common and provide more rigidity and strength.
You’ll first notice that tubular options have a classic look. They are available in different designs and are well built despite their low cost. Most front and rear tubular options are full-width hence offering sufficient protection. Some also wrap around corners for extra protection and are fully welded for better strength.
Tubular bumpers don’t do well off-road. The main problem is the hollow design that tends to collect water causing premature rusting. But this can be prevented by buying a bumper with welded ends or buying weld-on caps for your tubular bumper.
Although they are light, they can handle some light bruising from brushes. Some front tubular bumpers even allow for winch mounting, and some have welded on bull bars and grille guards for optimum protection.
Rock Crawler aftermarket Bumper
Rock crawler bumpers are designed for traversing boulders with little interference. Like stubbies, rock crawlers accommodate oversized tires and have great departure and approach angles. They are available in a square plate or tubular construction. Since the tubes extend from the grill, you’ll have ample room to mount your winch. On the flip side, a straight steel bumper for your truck is hardier and takes substantial abuse.
Bull bars are designed to push through brambles and thick brush, and skid plates protect fragile engine parts. Most bull bars allow for the installation of aftermarket lights and storing Hi-Lift jacks.
Right off the bat, stinger front bumpers offer better function, appeal, and safety for drivers who love going off road. Their primary goal is to protect passengers from downhill rollovers when the rear wants to flip over the front to roll down faster. When the stinger touches the ground when the car’s rolling forward, it shifts the vehicle’s momentum to the side, reducing the forward motion.
Also, the high arch design gives your vehicle a mean and aggressive look that intimidates other drivers on the road. Like bull bars, stingers also protect your radiator, grille, and winch from rocks and branches.
Stingers are better suited for serious off-roaders, although you can use them to scare drivers on-road too.
Grille guards have different designs ranging from simple to complex. Regardless of your design choice, a grille guard will protect the radiator and other engine parts from branches. Single hoop attachments are perfect for installing aftermarket lights, while complex setups don’t allow this. However, complex designs provide all-around protection.
If you’re an offroad enthusiast, you should consider these three bumper angles before making a choice. They include:
- Approach angle: this is the angle between the line from the furthest point of the bumper to your front wheels and the ground. The approach angle dictates the steepest incline you can start and only have the wheels touch the obstacle.
- Departure angle: this is the line between the furthest point of the rear bumper and the rear tire. Simply put, it’s the largest angle your vehicle can take when descending a hill or an obstacle onto flat ground.
- Breakover angle: this angle determines the sharpest arch you can drive over. Simply put, it’s the angle between the tires and the middle low-point of your vehicle.
Departure and approach angles are affected by the type of bumper you choose. The further out the bumper protrudes, the lesser the angle. However, you can always increase this angle by lifting the vehicle.
Bumpers are designed to protect your 4X4, but what protects the bumper from corrosion and impact? Choosing a bumper with the right coating makes a big difference between a bumper whose pain gets chipped off after each drive and one that’ll brave the weather and bruising.
Some of the off-road bumper coating options available include regular paint with textured finishes. However, we recommend getting powder coated option if you want color options, protection, and durability.
Size and Weight
Now that we’ve looked at the different bumper options available, we should point out that size and weight affect how your truck handles off-road, especially when it comes to ground clearance and approach and departure angles. If by looking at pictures of your choice, you feel this might be a problem, you should consult with your local mechanic or showroom before buying.
The material used affects the weight of the bumper hence the approach and departure angles. Some materials used include aluminum, fiberglass, plastic, and carbon fiber. Here’s how they compare:
- Steel – These bumpers are heavy duty and durable. They are ideal for larger vehicles used off-road.
- Aluminum alloy: these are lightweight yet strong. Aluminum bumpers have been growing in popularity.
- Carbon fiber: they are durable and lightweight. They can also be repainted and repaired. For these conveniences, you’ll part with a little more money than you would aluminum bumpers.
- Fiberglass: they are the preferred aftermarket bumper material for most brands. This is because they are durable and lightweight. They can also be painted and sanded. Unfortunately, they tend to crack easily compared to plastic bumpers.
- Plastic: these are made from poly resin, which can be repainted and resists impact. However, plastic cannot be sanded and is harder to repair.
Winches are key in lifting and hauling devices, either using a motor or a crank. A lot of aftermarket options feature winch plates that can accommodate winches with over 10,000 lb. capacity. While not everyone might want to install a winch, if you have a 4X4 and frequent off-roads, you should consider installing one.
Generally, go for a winch that support 1.5X your vehicle’s weight. Winches come with stock installation hardware and can be done by a professional, or you can handle it yourself.
Matching Rear Bumper
The first thing that comes to mind when you think of an aftermarket bumper is the front bumper only. However, there are benefits of getting a matching rear too. This helps you balance the weight of the front bumper and give your vehicle a custom look.
Good Things to Know
Aside from the above consideration, you should do the following before you purchase an aftermarket bumper. For starters, you should use your VIN to search for the exact design, make and model online or by calling a dealership. In addition to this:
- Prefer OEM wherever possible: most aftermarket options don’t always fit. As such, you should prefer OEM options which are better on this front.
- Ensure it’s CAPA certified: CAPA (Certified Automotive Parts Association certifies some aftermarket bumpers meaning they can guarantee the function and fit just like original OEMs. So, if you opt for an aftermarket bumper, be on the lookout for this respected sign of quality.
- Research your source: if you purchase yours from a salvage yard, you should run a report on the original car. The last thing you want is a bumper that was compromised in an accident and covered with a shell.
If you’re new to off-roading, you’ll be shocked at the options available. As we’ve detailed in our review, there are loads of bumper options that serve different purposes. As such, you can always customize your vehicle with different lighting specs and recovery options.
Always consider your needs before spending your money to get the best bumper for your vehicle. Overall, bumpers will add character and offer your 4X4 ample protection.
I’m Ruiru Kibet, an avid writer and techie that has taken a keen interest in offroading. As I explore nature and troubleshoot with different offroad products and techniques, I’ll share them with you. The goal is dumb it down and help you experience the best of nature.